Feature – The Eras of Our ways

Expectations for officials are changing. The contrast between how we did things years ago and now is great. A more professional approach rules the day.


By Tim Sloan

Ron Luciano, who died in 1995, was one of the classic arbiters and characters of the 1970s in professional sports. An AL umpire for 11 years, he was one of the most visible and controversial men to ever work between the foul lines. Many of the things he did in his career would make an official cringe today, but they might help us appreciate how far we’ve come.

Luciano grew up in an apartment over his parents’ restaurant in Endicott, N.Y. He was a mediocre baseball player, so he turned to football because of his size and agility, winning a scholarship to Syracuse University. While working on a math degree, he garnered All-America honors as an offensive tackle, blocking for the great Jim Brown. After four years on the injury list in pro football, he retired and tried teaching but gave that up when he realized schools had lots of children.

With zero officiating experience, he went to Al Somers’ umpire school in 1964 and, remarkably, graduated and made it to the majors in just five seasons. Once in the bigs, he shredded the code of conduct for umpires but endeared himself to fans with his talkativeness, histrionics and charm.

Boy, has officiating changed in a generation.

One thing they might question today would be Luciano’s professionalism: He bought hot dogs during the game, flew paper airplanes and had a trademark of calling runners out-out-out by pretending to rapid-fire a gun; his record was 16 shots. On “very bad days, which followed soon after very good nights,” he was known to ask catchers he trusted to help him with balls and strikes by framing the pitches that were strikes. For balance, a fellow umpire once said, “Ronnie doesn’t so much show up for a game as he arrives. He walks through both dugouts saying hello to people, talking to the fans, getting everyone in a good mood for when the game starts.”

Tom Topping umpires NCAA softball and is also the sport’s coordinator in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He says officiating today is mostly about professionalism. “I think (professionalism) has gone up several notches,” says Topping. “You have to treat it more like a business now than as an avocation or a hobby, especially in softball.

“You have to be more consistent with other umpires and more prepared for games, especially from a fitness aspect where that wasn’t stressed as much before.”

Topping includes taking responsibility for one’s actions on and off the field as a big-ticket item. That’s because officials are more likely than they once were to be recognized in public because of media coverage: You can gain as much bad press for yourself and fellow officials in the corner bar as you can at third base, something Luciano didn’t seem to see as a big concern.

In comparison to hockey or basketball referees, some might not think of umpires as needing a high level of fitness. The speed of the athletes and the arduous schedules they now work change that. In fact, Luciano retired before the 1980 season when he realized, at 290 pounds, he just couldn’t get in position like he once could to get the right angle on a play — in a four-umpire system. He thought he would be cheating players if he stuck around.

It was ironic in a way because one of the things his supervisors liked was his “good size,” which translated into a license to command the proceedings. Other former umpires like Eric Gregg and John McSherry were legendary for their girth. Gregg was fined by baseball because of his weight and the issues it created in his work. McSherry, after several scares, died in 1996, on opening day in Cincinnati, because of complications of his poor fitness. Where size was once an asset in game control, today it’s a liability. Just ask John Adams.

Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, has been assigning officials to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2008 and many would regard him as a groundbreaker in setting the specifications for the modern official.

“When I got the job in 2008,” explains Adams, “we evaluated every call by every official in the 2008 tournament. Consistently, there was a theme on missed calls of officials being out of position or not being in good position to see the play.

“One of the things we’ve worked on in our community is raising the level of officials’ fitness and our call accuracy percentage has gone up from 80 percent to as much as 90 percent in just five years.”

Adams says that some popular refereeing names don’t appear in the tournament because his evaluation is they can’t keep up with the pace of play. He has made it plain that fitness and mobility are his top two factors in deciding who will be selected to the tournament among those with suitable experience.

In Adams’ mind, the need for the stress on accuracy stems from the increased scrutiny of officials that the modern media has brought to bear. There was a time when a network basketball game might be covered by two or three cameras, supplemented by stop-action replay. Under those conditions, even if a broadcaster chose to replay a controversial call out of respect for the officials, the video evidence would often be inconclusive — remember Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception (or not?) Now that game coverage is more sophisticated and evidence of incorrect calls can circle the globe in seconds, people like Adams have gone all-in to find the best people to produce uncommon accuracy. And it starts with fitness.

A trademark of many officials in Luciano’s time was their ability to put a stamp on the game; to take charge and deal with issues before things could get ugly. Supposedly, former Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda was once a minor league pitcher. In winter league ball one season, he started chattering at the Cuban plate umpire over his concept of the strike zone. When the umpire had heard enough, he walked out to Lasorda, smiled and opened his coat to display perhaps the largest handgun Lasorda had ever seen. Their differences were immediately resolved: Effective, but not a career builder.

Management is far more important than bluster in running a game today. Luciano believed that any umpire who showed hesitation or any vulnerability was destined for a short career. They substituted iron-fisted debating skills for the lack of video evidence of their skills back then. Someone had to take charge and a lot of the officials of that era were well known for their aggressiveness. Name more than a few such personalities today. Marcia Alterman bets you can’t.

Alterman was a top-notch NCAA volleyball official before becoming the executive director of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO). In her tenure she’s seen the dynamic between first and second referee change considerably. When she started, it was like a master-slave relationship. The up official exerted a level of authority and decision-making extending to the shores of the seven seas; the down official hoped one day to be so revered.

“The culture on that getting-it-right thing really has changed,” Alterman says. “We’ve kind of mimicked other sports and gone away from ‘the first referee is always correct’ culture that we had for years.

“At the college level we’ve emphasized the get-it-right philosophy to the point where we’ve encouraged the second referee to step up when they have information to add to a play.”

In addition to creating fewer controversies in an average match, it’s created the opportunity for specialization. Volleyball officials frequently come as matched sets now, with a great play-caller up top and a great administrator and soother in front of the table, between the benches. That helps because she agrees with the others that coaches have become more fractious and difficult to deal with.

Luciano wrote that he only ever asked for help on one call in 10 years. He was blinded by the setting sun one evening on a pole-bender home run, guessed wrong and had an entire dugout disgorge on him. It was such an obvious and excusable error that the umpires’ normal phobia of appearing indecisive didn’t apply. Compare that to today.

“It’s not unusual to get together on a play maybe once a weekend,” says Mike Conlin, an NCAA baseball umpire who also supervises basketball officials for the Horizon League. “I don’t want to say it’s become the norm, but it is common.

“I think it’s happened because it’s a completely different mentality with baseball. … I think, over time, it’s become recognizable that there are pieces where it’s in everybody’s best interest to get things right.”

It isn’t that the quest for perfection has changed over the past couple of decades; it’s that people have learned to tunnel under the stone wall officials used to build around their fallibility. What’s crept in is that officials now accept that they’ll make mistakes because the games are so much more athletic. So, they’re now more willing to fess up and straighten things out, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

OK, maybe it is a sign of strength, but if these group discussions bring more focus on the officials, “Let the teams decide it,” is bound to echo from the rafters. Conlin says, “The players do decide the game. The officials in any sport work the game the way the rules committees want them officiated.”

We could probably name many people just in our own neighborhoods who would regard that as a truism. Yeah, more fouls create more whistles, but aren’t officials supposed to compensate by calling fewer fouls, or only calling them when the situation dictates? Conlin doesn’t think so.

“Twenty years ago, you could look at contact in a play and be comfortable not blowing your whistle,” Conlin said. “Now the coaches are concerned about the amount of contact in the game and it not being won and lost in the dressing room and things like that. So now, they’re asking us to call things closer.”

Conlin and Adams agree that it restores the balance of play, which had swung toward the defense under a softer approach. Adams believes the best officials call the same foul, the same way whether in the first or last minute of a game; there is no room for stepping in early and setting a standard for what they’re willing to call, then letting the players run amok for a while and then buttoning things down with the game on the line. From Adams’ viewpoint, the need for that consistency is another consequence of the increased physicality of sports today.

Adams says finding enough people who are unwavering in how they call a game is a challenge. While it might be a question of foul-calling consistency in basketball, it manifests itself differently in other sports.

Luciano made the point that the umpires of his era were defined by their strike zones. He described his as an oval. He had trouble bending down far enough to be sure on the low corners and he thought having the top of the strike zone at the armpits was only fair if the ball was out over the plate. In his time, it fell to the players to get used to each umpire’s tendencies. Today, that would be heresy. In softball, Topping says, the NCAA uses and distributes video of its umpires’ games to make sure the strike zone is the standard rectangle, no matter who has the plate. It’s important because batters are equally well-coached to know the strike zone and lay off the right pitches.

Doesn’t “calibrating” officials so much take some of the humanity out of it? Maybe, but the consensus is we should all get used to it.

Another place where uniformity has become a raison d’être is in the realm of safety, the big fish in any sport’s pond these days. Luciano despised the beanball, especially after he saw the career of Baltimore’s Paul Blair changed by a “purpose pitch” that fractured his skull. Billy Martin once declared to him while exchanging lineup cards before a doubleheader that his Rangers would pitch at the Brewers’ Robin Yount every time he came to bat — and then they did. Luciano threw Martin out of both games and then was almost fired for criticizing the light treatment he thought Martin got from the league. The way Luciano looked at it, if a pitcher could throw at a batter, why couldn’t the batter go out to settle things with the pitcher? He said there were even times he’d give the batter a head start when he charged the mound: Try to imagine reading that on the front page of the sports section today.

Safety in sports is no longer something to be settled at the whim of the participants. Neither can its requirements be sampled like a smorgasbord by the officials. Gary Whelchel knows that as well as anyone.

Whelchel is the commissioner of officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and regards managing safety as paramount. He says it often involves administrating issues that have nothing to do with when the ball’s in play. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football unless colleges found a solution to the deaths caused by head injuries. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if another president soon repeats that threat.

The AIA was one of the early experimenters with the football rule benching players whose helmet comes off during a play. The data Arizona produced was a big driver in the NFHS beefing up the rule in recent years, says Whelchel. The state has also adopted a concussion education program called the Barrow Brainbook: No player or official may participate in a contest unless they’ve passed the course with an 80 percent or better score. Safety protocols are taking no prisoners.

Being a safety-conscious official is as much about mediation and avoiding litigation as it is about determining forward progress. For Whelchel, that creates the secondary issue of finding the right observers to identify the right officials to work his state tournaments. The AIA has a policy that no official works state in consecutive years, so there’s a premium on having a good scouting program. Those observers, he explains, are often the retired, old-school people who are products of yesteryear’s successes. You have to do a lot to school them to select officials on the basis of the current requirements, which includes managing safety issues.

Whelchel says something else is the greatest threat to retaining officials. “The issue where we’re losing officials isn’t with their concerns over dealing with player safety,” he said. “Of more concern is the violence of the fans and those sorts of things that are occurring in society. They’re concerned whether somebody’s going to come up behind them or attack them out of the stands.”

Every jurisdiction, from the smallest middle school to the biggest college, has a policy of zero tolerance for intimidating referees. Nonetheless, the threat grows and the worst incidents have sometimes resulted in the deaths of officials. Whelchel says that the potential for abuse, plus an improving economy where potential officials have a better chance to find other work, has made it harder to find new officials. What did you experience the last time you were trying to replace a crewmate?

“In the past few years managers have started getting physical with umpires. A manager, or player, should never, ever, under any circumstances, touch an umpire. Throughout baseball history managers have been forbidden to touch the umpire and umpires have had a limited amount of trouble from fans. But if that barrier breaks down, and it seems to be cracked right now, umpires will start having real problems with the fans.” That wasn’t Whelchel speaking. Luciano wrote that in The Umpire Strikes Back, in 1982. Some things never change.

Do the level of preparation, scrutiny and the efforts at uniformity risk making officiating become sterile? Will there be any room for personality or flexibility? For that matter, is it even ethical to prepare for the tendencies of two teams anymore, lest we be biased?

Yes, absolutely yes. Luciano said he took up baseball “to avoid the blind dates arranged by his mother” but learned to love the game once he understood its nuances. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the players in front of him and how it all played out made every game something new to look forward to. As the players left the field after one such game late in Luciano’s career, he wrote, “I wanted to tell them all, thanks for letting me be part of it.” Despite all the different things we’re being asked to do, it’s still about the game and we still get to enjoy it when the lights come up.

After retirement, Luciano worked briefly for NBC as a baseball color analyst. He then wrote five books about the human condition, thinly disguised as humorous reminiscences of his time in baseball. He summed it up this way: “When I started, (baseball) was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks.

“But while I was trying to answer the daily Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I was finished, there were 10 men on each side, the game was played indoors, on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”

The San Diego Chicken and artificial turf didn’t change umpiring. They merely illustrate why officiating is changing. Sport is a cultural activity and a form of entertainment. How we play games changes at the will of the participants — the fans, teams and administrators. As officials, we’re there to help deliver what they want. If we have the same passion for the game, then changing our ways to accommodate is the way to go; if we can’t handle the change, we’re welcome to move on. Whatever the case, we are still part of the solution and our leaders want us to be the best we can be.

Situation normal.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Follow the Setter

Why It’s Important to Key on One or Two Players


By Julie Voeck

Referees need to know how to identify front-row and back-row players on both teams throughout the match. That can be challenging because each team rotates one position each time the team gains the right to serve.

Rules place limitations on what back-row players are allowed to do when playing the ball in front of the attack line in the front zone. When in the front zone, back-row players are not allowed to complete an attack hit on a ball that is completely above the height of net or participate in a completed block on a ball coming from the opponent.   

The setter is a key player on the team and is involved in nearly every play. The main responsibility of the setter is to set the second ball to the hitter, which means the setter will often be playing the ball in the front zone and often very close to the net. Since the setter may be either a back-row or front-row player, it is critical the referees know the setter’s location for each team before each rally begins. 

Illegal attacks. When a back-row setter plays a ball that is completely above the height of the net while on or in front of the attack line (in the front zone), a teammate must play the ball before it completely crosses the net or is legally touched by the opponent. As an example of that situation, when a back-row setter, on or in front of the attack line, sets a ball above the height of the net, and the ball enters into the plane of the net. If the ball is then legally touched by an opponent before it is played by the setter’s teammate, an illegal attack fault has been committed by the back-row setter. Another example includes the back-row setter, on or in front of the attack line, who tips, dumps or hits the ball across the net to the opponent while the ball is completely above the height of the net. Both of those situations result in an illegal attack.

Illegal blocks. A back-row player is also not allowed to complete a block or participate in a completed block. A common situation where a back-row setter could be at risk of committing an illegal block is when the ball is over-passed by a teammate. In that situation, the ball is passed very close to the top of the net and enters the plane of the net. When attempting to save the overpass, if the back-row setter makes contact with the ball simultaneously with an opposing blocker while she or he is reaching higher than the top of the net, the setter has committed an illegal block. Likewise, if the opponent contacts the ball first, and the ball then touches the setter, who is reaching higher than the top of the net, the setter has committed an illegal block.

How do the referees determine the location of the setter? Referees should understand common offenses and alignments used by teams. Most teams utilize an offense with either one or two setters. When a team uses one setter, the setter sets the ball from all positions in the rotation. At the beginning of each rally, the referees need to be able to quickly identify the setter, and then determine from the player alignment on the court whether the setter is in the front or back row.

When a team uses two setters, most of the time the starting position of the primary setter is in the back row. Teams may have both setters on the court at the same time. Teams may also substitute one or both setters out of the set when the setter’s position rotates from the back row to the front row. When a team uses two setters, referees need to know which player is the current setter. Often in a two-setter offense (called a 6-2), one or both of the setters either become hitters when they rotate into the front row, or one or both of the setters are substituted out of the set when their positions rotate to the front row. It is important that the referees become familiar with those substitution patterns and rotation strategies in order to quickly identify the setter positions. 

How does the referee track the setter? Watch warmups and observe the players who are setting. As first referee, when you review the lineup before going on the stand at the beginning of the match, note the starting position for each setter, then track each setter’s position before each rally. Learn common alignments so you know the starting position of the setter each time a team rotates. The second referee might also assist the first referee by providing information about the location of the setter when requested to do so.

Know each team’s setter(s) and their positions at the beginning of the match and before each rally. That will put you in the best position to track the setters throughout the match.

Julie Voeck, Milwaukee, is president of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials. She is also an FIVB international referee, NCAA Division I women’s volleyball and high school referee, and gymnastics judge.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Know Who’s Designated


At the pregame meeting, it is the plate umpire’s responsibility to review the lineup card submitted by each coach.

One of the biggest issues that has to be dealt with is the designated hitter.

In the lineup card shown, Franklin is the designated hitter. However it is not clear for whom he is hitting.

In NCAA and pro play, there is no option as the DH can only hit for a pitcher. But in NFHS play, the DH can hit for any of the other nine players, so it is imperative to know which player isn’t hitting.

Some coaches put the DH directly above the player who is not batting; in the example that would be George. Others put the player who isn’t hitting as the 10th player (Jones).

When reviewing the card, umpires should check that teams have nine or 10 players listed without duplication and that all positions are accounted for (although only the pitcher is locked into his defensive position).

Last, the umpire should announce, “Franklin is the DH hitting for Jones.” That confirms that you and both coaches are reading the card the same way.


Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Wild Wild Card

Pro Plays Provide Unusual Rulings


By George Demetriou

With the changing of the calendar from one year to the next come the NFL playoffs. The league’s postseason begins with the Wild Card round. As we head into this season’s playoffs, let’s review plays from three of last year’s games. Although in most cases NFL rules are vastly different than high school or college rules, amateur officials can learn from the plays.

Thanks to Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and now a member of the Fox Sports broadcast team, for his assistance.

Green Bay at Philadelphia. The Eagles punted on fourth and one from their 23 yardline. Philadelphia punter Sav Rocca kicked 36 yards to the Green Bay 41 yardline. The ball struck the Packers’ Brandon Underwood on the foot and was recovered by Philadelphia’s Omar Gaither.

Underwood was deemed to have touched the ball because he was not “passive” when he was overpowered into the ball by a Philadelphia player. Passive is defined as standing in the area of the ball without blocking an opponent. If a player is passive and is knocked into the ball, he is deemed not to have touched the ball. Since Underwood was blocking, he was responsible for the touch.

In both high school and college, Underwood would have been the victim of forced touching (NFHS 6-2-4; NCAA 6-3-4) and deemed to not have touched the ball. The ball would have been awarded to Green Bay. As it turned out, the Eagles did not score on the new series. David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal.

With 4:02 to play in the game, the Eagles scored a touchdown to trail, 21-16, and went for a two-point try. Quarterback Michael Vick completed a pass in the back of the end zone to Brent Celek, but Celek had stepped on the endline before catching the pass. He was flagged for an illegal touch. Initially referee Pete Morelli announced the try was not successful; however, at least one of the officiating crew members stepped up and reminded Morelli that the penalty for an illegal touch is not a loss of down. Since Celek caught the ball for what would have been a successful try, the Packers had to accept the penalty to negate the score. The Eagles got a re-try from the seven yardline. The replayed try was unsuccessful.

Under NFHS rules, Celek’s foul would be illegal participation. Celek voluntarily went out of bounds and returned (9-6-1). The 15-yard penalty would be enforced under the all-but-one principle from the previous spot and the try would be replayed from the 18 yardline.

In NCAA play, the foul is illegal touching. Celek went out of bounds and touched a forward pass before it was touched by an opponent or an official (7-3-4). The penalty is loss of down at the previous spot so the try would not be replayed.

Baltimore at Kansas City.

Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel went back to pass and was hit by Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb while he was attempting to pull the ball back. The ruling on the field was that Cassel fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Ravens. Kansas City challenged and the call was reversed to an incomplete pass.

That is the infamous NFL “tuck” rule. Once a player moves his arm forward to pass the ball, he is considered to be in the act of passing until he totally tucks back to his body. Under NFHS and NCAA rules, that is a fumble. Cassel was not attempting to pass the ball and his arm was not moving forward when the ball came loose (NFHS 2-31-2 Note; NCAA 2-19-2b).

New York Jets at Indianapolis.

The Jets trailed, 16-14, but had the ball first and 10 at their 46 yardline with 53 seconds to play. Mark Sanchez completed a pass to Braylon Edwards, who was tackled by Jacob Lacey. The ball came loose as a result of the hit with Edwards falling on the ball. Incomplete or a catch and a fumble? It was ruled the latter and the review confirmed the ruling.

To make a catch, possession must be maintained while going to the ground. On that play, the receiver maintained an upright position while making the catch; it was the subsequent tackle that took him to the ground. Edwards got both feet down and was not going to the ground. The contact by the defender knocked the ball loose. The play should be called exactly the same way under NFHS and NCAA rules: a catch and a fumble.

Earlier there had been a critical call involving contact with a kicker. The Jets led, 14-13, with 3:02 to play in the game. Indianapolis’ Taj Smith ran into New York punter Steve Weatherford and was flagged for running into the kicker. Although it was only a five-yard penalty, it gave the Jets a first down.

The issue was whether or not Smith was blocked into Weatherford. The ruling was that Smith was not blocked into the kicker. He regained his balance after he was pushed, and he could have avoided Weatherford.

In NFHS and NCAA, if blocking the defender into the kicker or holder is the sole reason for the contact, there is no foul (NFHS 9-4-5d; NCAA 9-1-16a-5).

George Demetriou has been a football official since 1968. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Libero Dos and Don’ts


By Marsha Goodwin

Alibero (LEE’-beh-ro) in indoor volleyball is a back-row defensive specialist. Since the libero only plays back row, those players are often shorter than the front-row blockers and hitters but have impeccable ball-control skills. The libero was created to promote ball-control. When the libero is on the floor, he or she is involved in every serve-receive pattern and is among the primary passers. Liberos are usually quick, agile defenders. When the libero enters the court, he or she replaces a back-row teammate. The term “replacement” is used rather than “substitute” because their exchange does not reflect in a team’s substitution count.

The world first saw the libero in the 1998 FIVB World Championships, and use of that player has now been incorporated into USAV, NCAA and NFHS rules. The three governing bodies have similar libero rules, with USAV now allowing a team to designate two liberos on the roster.

The use of a libero increases the length of rallies because he or she is an outstanding passer, which provides the setter a greater number of accurate, successful passes to run the offense. The libero is not allowed to complete an attack-hit from anywhere on the court or free zone if the ball is completely above the top of the net at the moment of contact. The libero may not block or attempt to block.

All three rule sets allow that in one rotation in the service order, the libero may replace the player in the serving position to serve. The coach must indicate the libero player’s number on the lineup sheet. If no libero is listed on the starting lineup, no libero may be used in that set. The coach may change the libero in subsequent sets. For NFHS and NCAA rules only, the libero may be designated as the floor captain.

In order to be immediately recognizable on the court, the libero wears a different jersey from the rest of the team. The libero’s jersey must be contrasting in color with the other team members’ jerseys and must have a visible legal number on the front and back.

Libero replacements occur across the sideline between the imaginary extensions of the attack line and end line (“libero replacement zone”). They are authorized at the start of each set by the second referee after he or she has checked each team’s lineup. Additional replacements must occur when the ball is out of play and before service authorization. Libero replacements are unlimited and do not count as substitutions. There must be at least one rally between replacements involving the libero, except when the libero on the court will be the next server. In that case, the libero on the court may move directly to the service position without exiting the court for a rally. The original server and the player who was replaced by the libero will exchange in the libero replacement zone in that case.

The only player who can replace the libero is the one whom the libero replaced. Once there has been a replacement, a substitution may take place immediately before the next service beckon. Replacements may not occur during timeouts, but may occur after a timeout has ended. For USAV, if two liberos are used by a team, only one libero may be on the floor at a time.

The libero tracker/assistant scorekeeper records libero replacements and substitutions. The scorekeeper records the libero number on the scoresheet; draws a triangle around the Roman numeral indicating the position in the service order where the libero serves; triangles the point or loss of rally in the individual scoring section (NFHS and NCAA only); and triangles the corresponding point in the running score if the libero’s service results in a point.

When the libero, who is on or in front of the attack line (in the “front zone”), uses overhand finger action to set the ball, a teammate may not complete an attack hit on that ball if the ball is entirely higher than the top of the net. The fault is signaled as an illegal attack, followed by indicating the libero (point toward the libero with an open hand).

If the libero is injured and cannot continue play, a new libero may be redesignated by the coach at any time. Any substitute may be redesignated as the new libero and the former libero may not play in the remainder of the set (remainder of the match in USAV rules). In subsequent sets, if a new libero is listed on the lineup, the former libero may change jerseys and play as a regular player. NCAA and USAV rules require the libero’s uniform number to remain the same whether playing as a libero or a regular player. The libero may not be used as a substitute for expelled or disqualified teammates.

The libero may be used as an exceptional substitution for an injured player if no other substitutes exist; he or she must change into a regular uniform and the team continues with no libero. If the libero is disqualified, he or she must be replaced by the player whom he or she replaced; play continues with no libero.

With the introduction of the libero, defensive control has increased, fostering longer rallies. With the contrasting jersey that sets him or her apart from the other teammates, fans often closely follow this ball-control specialist in spectacular dives, digs and extraordinary passes in getting the ball to the target. As the game evolves, so does the speed of the game, due in great part, to the addition of the libero.

Marsha Goodwin, Cleveland, Tenn., is the state supervisor of officials with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association. She is a longtime high school and collegiate volleyball referee.

NFHS rules allow the second referee to use a lineup card as a tool for tracking player positions. But even with a lineup card, it can be a challenge, constantly requiring the second referee to look at the card, track servers, identify the front- and back-row players, and to determine if everyone is in legal alignment. NCAA and USA Volleyball rules do not permit the second referee to use a lineup card, so memorization techniques, communication with the scorekeeper and a quick peek at a team’s lineup once in a while have become tools of the trade.

Whatever method the second referee uses for tracking player alignments, it ultimately boils down to one thing: the position of the player’s foot/feet at the moment the ball is hit for service. In the MechaniGram, the back-row players — left back (LB), center back (CB) and right back (RB) — are in good position. Left front is also set. But center front (CF) and right front (RF) are in a position that causes second referees concern and confusion. The culprit: the left foot of the RF player.

From the second referee’s position, it may appear that the RF player’s left foot is even with the CF player’s left foot. Even if that is the case, that is not a concern for the second referee. In fact, the RF player’s left foot can be closer to the left sideline than the CF player! The only issue is that the RF player has at least one part of one foot closer to the right sideline than the corresponding front-row player (CF). That requirement has been met, and no fault has been committed (NFHS 6-4-3b; NCAA,; USAV, 7.4.3).

Front-row players must have a portion of at least one foot closer to the center line than their corresponding back-row teammate (LF-LB, CF-CB, RF-RB). Right-side players must have at least one part of one foot closer to the right sideline than their adjacent teammate (RF-CF, RB-CB), and left-side players must meet the same requirement with respect to the left sideline (LF-CF, LB-CB). The rules don’t require that the back-row players be closer to the endline than the corresponding front-row player.

Brian Hemelgarn is Referee’s volleyball coordinator. He officiates at the college and international levels.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Referee Enterprises Announces New Executive Committee Structure

For Release July 17, 2015

Referee Enterprises Inc. (REI), the publisher of Referee magazine and the management company of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) today announced four appointments to the company’s top-level management team. The moves create an executive committee that will guide the company’s strategic, operations, marketing and sales endeavors.

Barry Mano was named REI’s Chief Strategy Officer and in that role will continue to guide the strategic vision of both REI and NASO. He retains his role as NASO president and publisher of Referee magazine. Mano began publishing Referee in 1976, and in 1980, he organized and created NASO.

Bill Topp was named Chief Operating Officer, primarily responsible for day-to-day operations. He was previously vice president of publishing and retains his role as executive editor of Referee. He started with REI as an editorial intern in 1990, eventually being named magazine editor in 1999. Topp has officiated football, basketball and baseball for 20 years, primarily at the high school and small college levels, including seven state championships. He has also held various leadership positions in local associations and high school conferences. Topp currently serves as secretary of NASO and is a member of the Officiating Development Alliance.

Jim Arehart was named Chief Marketing Officer, overseeing the company’s marketing, branding and public relations efforts. Arehart started with REI as an associate editor in 1997, eventually becoming Referee’s senior managing editor in 2004. In 2007, Arehart moved to the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) where he was director of publishing, focusing on communications, public relations, marketing and promotions. He returned to REI in 2010 as marketing director, promoting the company’s product line, subscriptions and memberships. Arehart is a 17-year high school football official, including two state championships.

Ken Koester was named Chief Business Development Officer, responsible for all aspects of sales, increasing partnerships and developing new business growth opportunities. Koester began his career at REI as an assistant editor in 2005, moving to the marketing/sales team in 2010 where he led REI and NASO in key strategic initiatives, including bulk sales and group NASO memberships. Koester is a 26-year basketball official, working 12 state high school championships and the 2010 NCAA Division III Final Four. He was also an on-field high school and college football official for 12 years and currently serves as a replay official for various NCAA Division I conferences. He has served a variety of local associations and camps in leadership capacities and continues to serve as the instructional chair for the Wisconsin Basketball Officials Association.

“We collaborate here at REI,” said Mano. “It is one of our special strengths. This newly formed Executive Committee bears witness to that fact. The skills, the trust and the openness the four of us share are unique, at least in my history. It is an honor to be a member of this group.”

REI is the national leader in sports officiating education, communication and industry services. The company began publishing Referee magazine in 1976 as the “voice of officiating.” Today, nearly 30,000 officials receive the magazine. Referee is written from an officiating perspective, blending editorial credibility and business viability. It educates, challenges and inspires sports officials at the youth, recreational, high school, collegiate and professional levels in all sports, with emphasis on baseball, basketball, football, soccer, volleyball and softball. Referee is the journal of record for officiating and takes informed positions on selected issues. Additionally REI produces a wide array of officiating training products, including books, DVDs, website services, digital communications and management services.


Contact: Bill Topp
Chief Operating Officer
Referee Enterprises, Inc.

Baseball – Keep Him in the Box

Rules, Techniques Designed to Maintain Pace


By George Demetriou

An umpire who understands the necessity for managing the batters who come to the plate can avoid many problems. There are some things, though, that are outside the umpire’s control. In those cases a prudent umpire can avoid making a bad situation worse. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.

Managing the batter also involves managing the pitcher. There is no value in getting the batter into the box if the pitcher isn’t ready to pitch. Starting pitchers are limited to eight warmup throws. In NFHS and pro, those must be completed within one minute of the first throw, but there is no time restriction in NCAA (NFHS 6-2-2c Exc; NCAA Appendix F; pro 8.03). The batter must remain in his on-deck circle while the pitcher is warming up in NFHS and pro and cannot be within the triangle formed by the rearward extension of the first and third baselines and must be in the vicinity of the dugout in NCAA (NFHS 3-3-3; NCAA 5-2e; pro PBUC 3.5).

At the start of subsequent half innings, all warmup throws in NFHS play must be completed within one minute timed from the third out of the previous inning (6-2-2c Exc). It is rarely timed as problems are infrequent.

For NCAA play, teams are allowed 90 seconds between innings unless a television contract provides otherwise (9-2i). The pro rule states one minute, but since almost every MLB game is televised that limit is not enforced (the commercial breaks range from 2:05 to 2:25).

The batter.

When it is his turn to bat, the batter must step into the batter’s box promptly. NFHS allows the batter 20 seconds after the pitcher has the ball. Under NCAA and pro rules, no time limit is specified and it is a judgment call as to whether or not the batter has delayed. The umpire may then declare a penalty strike. NFHS and NCAA allow the strike to be called without delivery of a pitch. In pro, the umpire must direct the pitcher to deliver and each pitch is called a strike. On a third strike, the ball remains live, but the batter is out (NFHS 7-3-1 penalty; NCAA 7-1b2; pro 6.02c).

Between pitches — the pitcher.

Only high school rules have a time limit on pitches with runners on base. The pitcher has 20 seconds to pitch, make a play or a legal feint after he receives the ball. If he throws to a player other than the catcher when the batter is in the batter’s box that is intended to delay rather than make a play, he gets a warning and is ejected for a subsequent offense. In NCAA and pro, a balk may be called for any unnecessary delay such as excessive throws to a base when a runner has no lead, excessive visits with a teammate and feigning injury (NFHS 6-2-2a, c; NCAA 9-3e; pro 8.05h).

When there are no runners on base, the NFHS rule is the same as described above. NCAA umpires use a clock to enforce a 20-second limit (9-2c) in conjunction with the batter’s box rule. The 20-second count starts when the pitcher receives the ball on the mound and ends when the pitcher begins his pitching motion.

The first time a college pitcher violates the time limit, he is warned. A ball is called for any subsequent violations by that pitcher. A strike is awarded if the batter causes the delay by not being in the box ready to take the pitch when the count expires or if he was not ready within five seconds and subsequently the count expired. Anyone who argues any penalty or timing procedure is subject to ejection after a warning (9-2c AR).

Between pitches — the batter.

Once the batter is in the box, all three codes require him to keep one foot in the box through the entire at bat unless one of the following occur (NFHS 7-3-1Exc; NCAA 7-1c Exc; pro 6.02d):

• The batter swings at a pitch.

• The batter is forced out of the box by a pitch.

• The batter attempts or feints a bunt.

• The catcher does not catch the ball (NFHS only) or a wild pitch or passed ball occurs.

• The pitcher takes a position more than five feet from the rubber after receiving the ball (NFHS only) or leaves the dirt area of the mound after receiving the ball.

• The catcher leaves his position to adjust his equipment (NFHS only) or to give defensive signals.

• A play is made on a runner at any base.

• The umpire grants time.

When the batter steps out of the box without time being granted and the pitcher is delivering, NCAA and pro have similar rules — the pitch is called a ball or strike as if the batter remained in the box (NCAA 7-1b1; pro 6.02b Cmt 6).

In NFHS, such a pitch is automatically called a strike (7-3-1). If the batter steps out of the box with one foot without time being called, while the pitcher is delivering, the pitch is automatically called a strike. If he does that with both feet, two strikes are called. The first strike is for stepping out of the box and the second strike for the pitched ball, no matter where it ends up.

Finally, in all codes if the pitcher hesitates in his delivery because the batter steps out of the box with one foot, it is neither a balk nor a strike, but a “do-over.” The same applies if the batter does that with both feet except in NFHS; in that code a strike is awarded because the batter’s box rule has been violated (NFHS 6-2-4d Nt, 7-3-1; NCAA 9-3g AR; pro 6.02b Cmt 6).


When a batter leaves the box, the umpire should verbally and visually tell the batter to return. The admonishment should be at a volume at which only he and the catcher can hear, while the visual point to him and the box should be subtle, but visible to all participants.

A penalty strike should be enforced only for delaying the game after being warned.

George Demetriou, a resident of Colorado Springs, is the current NFHS rule interpreter for the state of Colorado.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Ken Stabler’s Death Evokes Legendary ‘Holy Roller’ Play


The San Diego Chargers were leading the Oakland Raiders, 20-14, in a 1978 battle when, with 10 seconds left in the game, Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler was tackled as he tried to pass and fumbled the ball forward. Raider Pete Banazak batted the ball further forward toward tight end Dave Casper, who did the same thing until the ball bounced into the end zone. Casper jumped on the ball for a touchdown. The Raiders won the game, 21-20. Referee Jerry Markbreit ruled that Stabler’s fumble had not been intentional, but Stabler later confessed that he had indeed fumbled the ball on purpose and Banazak and Casper went on record saying they helped the ball along for the score. To close the obvious loophole in the rule, the NFL added a regulation that says that in the event of any fourth-down fumble or fumble in the final two minutes of either half, only the player who actually fumbled the ball can recover it and run with it. If any other offensive player recovers the ball, he cannot advance it; the ball is declared dead and is returned to the spot of the original fumble.

View Video: Top Controversial Plays: The ‘Holy Roller’ (YouTube)

Feature – It Counts


Rules knowledge, mechanics and making the right calls are important. Missing any of those elements can break your career, but having them won’t make it.

Wait. What?

It’s true. They won’t set you apart. Because all officials should be studying the rules, getting in the right position to make the calls and making the right calls most of the time. Those skills are what bond most officials and make them the same.

To set yourself apart from other good officials you must have something else, something special. You need that It Factor. “It” is what assigners, supervisors and other officials are looking for from you.

In order to figure out what it is, NASO at its recent Summit brought together four individuals who have proved they have it in spades. Fox Sports analyst Mike Pereira, who previously directed the NFL officiating department and is a former NFL official, led a discussion on officiating with former MLB umpire Mike Reilly, NFL referee Gene Steratore and NBA referee Joe Crawford. On and off the field and court, those officiating icons combine for more than 100 years officiating experience.

A number of It Factors emerged from those professionals. Ask yourself if you have what it takes to reach the next level in your officiating or consistently maintain a high performance at the level you’re at.


Do you have a passion for officiating or is it just another means to a paycheck? Money is important, but passion pays off. It counts. If you’re hooked on officiating, your attitude on and off the field and court with your fellow officials shows that. You want to go to those weekly association meetings (even the long-winded ones). It never enters your mind not to stick around after the game to discuss things with your partners, because you want to get better.

For many officials, it starts with a passion for the game and develops into a passion for officiating. But for some, that passion for officiating was passed down right away.

“I got hooked on it because my dad was an official,” Pereira said. “So I started at a very young age trying to understand officiating. I learned the game through the eyes of an official.”

Crawford credits his dad, the late MLB umpire Shag Crawford, for helping him develop his passion for officiating as well.

“I was just a fortunate person,” Crawford said, “and I owe everything to that guy because it is what formed me as a referee — that passion, that love that he had for his profession.”

That makes sense to Reilly. Even though he didn’t grow up in an officiating family, he developed a passion for baseball as a player.

“My father was in business, but I have five brothers and we grew up with the love of baseball and the game itself,” Reilly said. “And once I got started and realized that I wasn’t going any further as a player, that desire to be the best official — the best umpire I could be — developed.”

That passion can carry you in officiating. You will be able to see that passion in your partners and it will grow in you as well. It’s not about getting to the highest level, according to Steratore, but rather soaking up the experience at any level.

“You learn how to officiate this game in a car in February driving on an icy road in basketball with a man who probably has been doing Division II or III basketball for 35 years because he loves it, not because he’s on TV,” Steratore said. “Not because he’s making a bunch of scratch or he’s got a nice 401K — he loves the game. He knows how to manage people.

“You’re a young kid in his car and you don’t even know who you are yet let alone interfacing with, when you progress to the college level, someone who is doing this for a living. So now you’re back to the purity of officiating and the purity of the passions. …

“Officiating in its purest sense is in that car while you pick his brain about the interface you had with that D-III coach in front of 100 people four hours away from your house. And what he said to you, how you responded back because you were young and stupid and weren’t polished enough — and he taught you about yourself indirectly. If you were really smart and paying attention, you were learning about yourself, which was a life-learning experience.”

Competition Instinct

A passion for officiating equals a passion for competition. A competitive instinct counts. It shows you want to improve. You want to be better than the veteran official working next to you. You watch the next level because you want to be good enough to reach that next level. You’re disappointed that you didn’t get that state assignment, but instead of moping, you use that “rejection” for motivation to work on your game.

“I loved the game and I love to compete,” Reilly said about baseball. “And I think as an umpire we go out every day and compete against the game to be the best. And when I say, ‘Compete against the game,’ you go out there to be perfect. And we all know as referees and umpires that’s impossible. But that’s our goal when we start that particular game — to be perfect.”

Crawford agrees.

“I want to work with those two people out there and we want to be perfect,” he said. “At the highest level we want to get this thing done, and we want to do it right.”

When you don’t do as well as you set out to do, you don’t let that bring you down. It happens to the best of the best. The key is to not let it knock you out for good. You need to get up and fight to prevent future mistakes.

“It can be consuming. It can eat you up,” Crawford said, “because this year I had a couple hiccups in a couple of the games, and you really start to question yourself a little bit, especially when you hit the old 62, and you start to say, ‘I don’t know. Joey may have a little problem here.’

“But you’ve got to fight it. You’ve just got to keep battling it, and you hope the powers that be have the confidence in you to keep putting you back there.”


There are some officials who make you wonder if they will be able to handle a big game, and then there are other officials at various levels that you know will handle the game. Assigners want them on that big rivalry or championship game. Fellow officials want to work with them. Having that command counts.

“In the NFL, you’re watching a quarterback that just went through a real quick bang, bang hit,” Steratore said. “You’re not sure if it was a foul or not, it’s close as heck, and now all of a sudden there’s three whistles from 40 yards away and someone’s running to you with a foul, but you have no idea of what it was. Convey that confidence, do it the right way and annunciate it correctly.” 

Show you’re in control, and people will believe you’re in control.

“I watch referees. That’s what I do,” Crawford said. “… I don’t know anything about the NFL. I grew up in baseball, but I don’t know anything about umpiring Major League Baseball. But I’ve watched (Steratore and Reilly). They have command. That’s what they have.

“(Steratore’s) command as a referee, (Reilly’s) command behind the plate is what sold these two guys. It’s what sold (retired NBA referee) Steve Javie. The command on the court or the field — how they’re being respected. Now if you call that ‘It,’ I don’t know. But all I know is that they got it because I’ve watched them.”

If you have command, you’re a decision-maker. You don’t wait and let your crewmembers bail you out on a close play. You step up and make the call every time.

“I used to tell officials, ‘You know what? When you’re going to throw (the flag), throw,’” Pereira said. “’Make the decision — if you’re right, (or) you’re wrong. If you’re wrong, who cares? You’ll learn. But when you do something on the field, be definitive.’”

If you are definitive, Pereira said, observers will recognize and appreciate that.

“You can teach him what you want called for holding,” Pereira explained. “You can teach him what you want let go — you can teach him that. But some stuff comes naturally — that instinct, that deportment, that comportment, that physical nature of being when you’re looking at somebody.”

People Skills

How do you interact with players, coaches and your fellow officials? Your personality counts. Crawford said that he learned that concept later in his career, but he believes that being a people person is important in officiating.

“What you really got to do in my opinion is take a step back,” Crawford said. “And (the late) Darell Garretson (former NBA director of officiating) used to say to me, ‘Joey, you’ve got to get a little more of your off-court personality and put it on the court because you turn — you laugh for 22 hours, and then for two hours it’s like somebody put Satan in you.’ And I used to say to him, ‘I didn’t understand that.’”

Crawford gets it now.

“That’s what I’ve come to realize — that you have to be a people person to referee,” he said. “I didn’t say, ‘Nice guy.’ I said, ‘A people person.’ And I think that’s what I didn’t get early on because I was listening to my father who was from the ’50s and the ’60s, and they attacked all the time. That’s how they officiated; it was attack.

“And that isn’t the way of the world today. … If I could do anything from the start again, I think I’d be a little more of a people person.”

Situation Management

Along with being a people person, you need to be able to handle situations that arise. You need to rise above pressure situations and not let them consume you.

“You wonder why some of these guys don’t make it,” Reilly said, “and it’s because … they just didn’t get it. They were good at ball, strike, safe and out — they could do it. But when it came to gametime handling of situations, handling managers, handling the pressure of the game, they couldn’t do it.”

Crawford shared a story about an NBA summer league game in Orlando in which Detroit was playing. Rasheed Wallace, who often led the league in technical fouls as a player, is an assistant coach for Detroit. Tiffany Bird was one of the officials on the game. One of the other referees was an NBA referee. For their first four years in the league, NBA officials work in the summer league.

“There’s a timeout between the third and the fourth period, and I see Rasheed reeling her in,” Crawford said. “So I’m watching and I’m saying to myself, this is why we’re here. We’re going to find out whether this referee has it. So I’m watching her and I’m just sitting there going, ‘Whack him, whack him.’

“Finally Rasheed is being real nice and then, bang, he went right for the jugular. And she just put her hand right up in his face and said, ‘I’ve got enough of you.’ That lady bought me. She now became — this doesn’t have anything to do with a guy or a woman — a referee.”

Handling arguments and other situations is essential in all sports.

“In baseball, the art of arguing is a quality you have to have,” Reilly said. “So when I look for a young umpire that we’re looking for that It Factor — it’s how someone handles himself in a stressful situation in an argument. And it could be different circumstances, one where he’s 100 percent right, and the other one is 100 percent wrong, and he knows it in both cases. But how aggressive is this young umpire who’s trying to find himself?

“And it doesn’t have to be a major league umpire. It could be a high school umpire, it can be a college umpire. But how, when you get in those sh– houses, you know how to get yourself out of them. And when you’re right, you’re right, and when you’re wrong you’ve got to be right. And that’s how you’ve got to handle those things.”


Officials know the commitment it takes to officiate, but for the most part, no one else cares. And that’s OK. You know you matter to the game.

When the NFL officials returned to work last season following the games worked by replacement officials, Steratore was the referee for the first game back.

“When we went back to officiate it wasn’t about us going back or ‘Look at us,’” Steratore said. “It was about that suddenly just for a moment in time the world understood that officiating was an integral part of sporting events. No more recognition.

“Yeah, did I tip my cap. Did I tip it twice? Yes. … I got more calls driving from Washington, Pa., to Baltimore that day from NBA officials, a couple major league umpires, college basketball officials, every official from every sport called … because they felt something as an official.

“We felt appreciated, which you don’t really strive for but it overwhelms you when it occurs, because without us guys and ladies the game doesn’t happen.”

While most officials will not be elevated by such an ovation in their careers, knowing that you are important, that your fellow officials are important and that your industry is important counts. It sets you apart.

So, what is the It Factor? It’s passion, humility, confidence, integrity, presence, respect for game, command, flexibility, dedication, trustworthiness, instinct, situation management, communication, pride, investment, people skills and competition instinct.

Does that match your list? It is all of the above.

“Every one of those, each word, is what you have to do to be successful, if you think about it,” Crawford said. “Passion, desire, respect … those are the qualities you need as an official at any level.”

“It is all about how you handle yourself,” Pereira agreed. “From my standpoint … that’s what makes an official.”

You can count on it.

Julie Sternberg is Referee’s managing editor.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 12/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Nose to Nose


Fans love seeing the nose-to-nose arguments in an MLB game, such as what is going on with MLB umpire Andy Fletcher in the photo.

But that’s actually not how umpires at the college and high school levels should act. MLB umpires have a unique situation of being the same umpires who deal with the same managers and players for more than six months every year. That creates a long history and different dynamic than umpires in lower levels.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for handling a coach-umpire or umpire-player discussion.

• Keep distance (three feet or more) between you and the player or coach. If he wants to get closer than that, simply take a step back. It will make him look like the aggressor.

• Do not adopt a confrontational stance, such as putting your hands on your hips or folding them across the chest. The best thing to do is put them behind you (but not in your back pockets)

• When possible, stand at a right angle. That forces the tone away from the nose-to-nose type discussion into more of a conversation.

• Nod your head to non-verbally acknowledge what is being said.

• Let the coach/player finish speaking before you speak. Use the time when he is starting to repeat himself or vent as your time to recall the rule or play in question and formulate your answer.

• Don’t use profanity. No supervisor or state office personnel can back you up when you swear. And without a doubt, the discussion will focus on your profanity and away from the play or ruling in question.

• Don’t try to get in the last word. It’s not a contest. Unless he delivers a personal remark that merits a warning or ejection, let him walk off.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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